The stunning weather of summer compels us to get out there and fish but it can be a frustrating time of the season with snapper occupied by spawning rather than feeding, as John Durrant explains.
There's an irony in that many fishers do most of their fishing in the middle of summer, right when our snapper can be at their most fickle.
Beautiful, hot, sunny, calm days may seem like the ideal fishing conditions to go out and catch a feed of prime snapper but the reality is, these times can prove frustrating. There’s a whole range of theories as to why this is, but there can be no doubt that spawning is the main one.
Beat the spawn
Through December and January especially, snapper are more concerned with doing the wild thing than eating for large parts of the day. There’s also the theory that warm water temperatures can make them lethargic and put them off the chew and this probably holds truth. For the summer fisher, the challenge is to get into the right areas, at the right times and present the right bait.
Of course, fishing is no exact science and there will always be exceptions to any angling rule, but by following some basic pointers, the fisho can avoid those agonizing days in the sun when you return home to an expectant whanau with little or nothing in the bin.
Working the action
There’s heaps of tactics for targeting summer snapper and you have to decide which one you’ll adopt before you go. The summer months see huge shoals of baitfish heading towards our coasts. From this, we can regularly see massive work-ups as dolphins, whales, predatory fish and gannets take advantage of an easy feed.
Chasing work-ups is exhilarating and frantic and when you find one, you usually don’t have to try too hard to start hitting the fish. Snapper will sit under the feeding frenzy on the surface, picking up the scraps that fall as baitfish are hammered by all and sundry.
Finding the work-up is the difficult part, catching snapper in this scenario is usually straightforward. The key is to get down to the bottom quickly. This is the target zone where the snapper are feeding. The fastest and most effective way to do this is by using a jig. There’s a big range of variations such as slowjigs, slow pitch, flutter jigs and the new free-running styles. They all work in this scenario. Just get them down there and the snapper – all pent-up and hungry – should snaffle them.
Approaching the work-up
It’s been said many times before but it’s so important not to drive your boat right through the work-up. This will almost certainly kill the action as you will scare the baitfish down deep ruining all the good work done by our friends the dolphins who’ve spent ages rounding their prey up.
Try to resist the urge to speed in and get fishing right away. As you approach the work-up, slow right down and take a moment to see which way the work-up is moving. From a distance it may look like the action is stationary but on further investigation you’ll notice that it will be travelling.
Once you’ve worked out which way, drive around the work-up – not through it – and set your drift in a position so that it is moving towards you. This way, you can capitalize on the action. You must also bear in mind that falling scraps from the baitball will drift some way so it’s unlikely that snapper will be sitting directly under the work-up.
Not everyone has the boat to go out wide chasing work-ups but that shouldn’t be a problem during summer. The spawning season means that snapper can be targeted right in close in the shallows and, in fact, many anglers have a lot of success fishing in channels that wouldn’t necessarily spring to mind as areas that would hold fish.
Shallow waters lend themselves to two methods in particular – straylining big baits and softbaiting. These are two very different ways to fish but both can deliver excellent results. Shallow water fishing requires stealth. If you move around at full tilt everywhere, then your chances of success in shallow water is slim.
Approach shallow bays with the mindset that there’s one big moocher in there and you’ll do all you can to make sure you don’t spook him. Cut the engine and drift into the spot. Slowly and quietly drop the anchor, avoid the chain scraping on the boat if you can and get that berley pot out and working its magic.
Cut baits like pilchards and bonito cast out the stern can be simply too hard for snapper to resist. Conditions and times are bigger factors in these conditions than most others.
Consider that you’re fishing in waters of perhaps four metres or shallower. Bright sunshine and boat traffic can put paid to good fishing in these spots. Time of day isn’t talked about as much in saltwater fishing as it is in lake and river fishing but in the shallows, it can play a big part.
Sliding into a quiet, shallow bay at dawn, just as the day’s first light starts to pierce through is a glorious way to fish, regardless of the results. But it can also be hugely rewarding. Snapper in these areas won’t be spooked quite as easily at this time of day and your stealthy actions could just be the key to a successful trip. The same can be said for dusk fishing, just be sure you have all the equipment aboard for fishing and navigating in the dark.
If you prefer to cast lures in the shallows, then softbaiting can be a great way to tempt spooky fish into the bite. Smaller softbaits, around four inch, are usually the go in these conditions and go as light as you possibly can with your jighead – half ounce or lighter if you can get a reasonable cast.
Snapper will usually hit quick and hard and immediately go for ground in these conditions. If you’re fishing over a sandy bay, then no worries. You can let that snapper run and run, safe in the knowledge he has nothing to bust you off on.
It’s a different story if you’re fishing near reef though. When that snapper hits, you have to do your best to get him away from that sharp rock right at the start. Timing is everything.